Dramatic Enrollment Shifts Plague Petroleum Engineering Programs

Topics: Faculty/engineering education
Source: Getty Images.

The sharp oil price volatility during 2014–16 is now being felt by US undergraduate petroleum engineering (PE) programs, where enrollment is in steep decline after hitting record highs at the onset of the price downturn.

The number of US students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in PE programs fell to 6,263 in fall 2017 from 8,712 in fall 2016 as attitudes toward the discipline continued to shift, according to data compiled by Lloyd Heinze, PE professor at Texas Tech University’s Bob L. Herd Department of Petroleum Engineering. Enrollment in fall 2015 remained elevated at 11,069, slightly lower than a peak of 11,474 in fall 2014 when the oil price crash was under way—meaning it took 2 years before enrollment numbers began tracking oil prices.

“Students are starting to realize the job market is very different from when they started out as freshmen,” said Heinze, who has followed PE enrollment trends for decades. A student who is slated to graduate with a BS in PE this spring, for example, likely enrolled in fall 2014 after West Texas Intermediate (WTI) prices had spent much of the year at more than $100/bbl. In their sophomore year, WTI cratered to $26/bbl before stabilizing in the $40-60/bbl range for their junior and senior years.

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Dramatic Enrollment Shifts Plague Petroleum Engineering Programs

Matt Zborowski, Technology Writer

01 February 2018

Volume: 70 | Issue: 2